A Fool For Tools

Go to Bob Denman for' a garden tool, and you might leave with a new lease on life. Denman, co-owner with his wife, Rita, of Denman & Company, purveyor of fine implements for the garden, finds few pleasures that approach the moment when a good spade bites dirt. "I'm not too fond of machines," he says drily. "I admire hand tools that let you work up a sweat, smell the earth and do a simple, satisfying job."

A lifelong green thumb and fix-it buff, Denman grew up tending his family's garden and playing with his machinist father's drill presses and grinding tools. As an adult, he worked in advertising until a motorcycle racing accident left him with an injured leg. Unable to kneel comfortably, Denman created his own gardening pants with built-in pads and a company to market them. Later, he switched gears and started making and selling tools.

In his barn-like Placentia store, an old corrugated metal building that once housed a gasworks, he offers more than 800 implements--most are steel-forged and many are hand-finished, with thick wood handles guaranteed for life. "Red Pig Garden Tools: For rootin' around . . . in the ground," says the sign on his door. Inside, around a wood stove, hang 14 kinds of spades, 25 different hoes, pole pruners, root cutters and rakes. If you don't see what you need--in the store or the catalogs he writes himself--he and his blacksmith will make it. The star of Denman's lineup is "Red Pig #1," a remake of a push plow that dates back 100 years. Though it might look like a relic, he sells 300 a year, mostly to home gardeners and truck farmers.

"Science," he says, "is moving at warp speed right now, and so is technology, but people don't change that fast. There's a cultural stretching and fraying that moves us to reach back in time for simpler ways of doing things."

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